How to Plan and Install an Outdoor Speaker Setup

If you’re thinking about spending money on a decent set of permanent/wired outdoor speakers, you’ll also want to spend time planning out the setup so that you’re sure that it will work. You’ll also want to know how to properly install them on your deck or wherever else when the time actually comes. This article will cover all the important things you’ll need to consider.

First: make sure you have all the parts you need

It’s not actually common for speakers to function right out of the box, or to come with everything that’s actually needed to use them. Here’s a summary of everything that’s (generally) needed in an outdoor sound system in addition to the speakers themselves:

  • Mounting hardware (usually comes included with speakers, but might not).
  • Speaker wire (usually does not come included).
  • Any necessary ancillaries, such as pvc conduit for underground wire if that’s going to be used (essentially never comes included).
  • A receiver or amplifier (the separate part of a sound system that actually generates and powers the signal which the speakers receive and play.)
  • A source, to actually play the audio (most people have something that can serve as a viable source, such as a computer or smart phone).

Second: What specific kind of outdoor environment are they going to be in?

Just because a product as the word “outdoor” slapped on it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be sufficient for your location. There’s a difference between a mounted speaker sitting beneath a bezel in an arid climate versus a fully exposed on-ground speaker on a beach front house that’s exposed to salt water spray and the like.

If you’re planning for your speakers to be in a particularly harsh outdoor climate, there are products that are plenty resilient – just make sure they’re graded for such conditions by checking the specs on the manufacturer’s website, the manual, or wherever.

Third: The most important metric – Power

Next, it’s important to understand that sound behaves very differently outdoors than indoors. Indoors, the walls will typically naturally amplify speaker sound while keeping out background noise, and thus require less volume and power to sound good. Outdoors, however, there may be no walls to contain sound, and it also has to overcome any outdoor background noise.

It’s important that an outdoor sound system has sufficient power to fill the given size of an area, as well as a particularly strong bass, because it’s harder to carry low frequency sound outdoors than inside. In fact, sometimes an extra subwoofer may be a great addition to your outdoor speakers to ensure optimal quality.

Fourth: Think about placement

A decent set of speakers should be at least 8 or so feet apart and 10 or so feet away from the listening area. If you buy more than two speakers, make sure the left and right speakers alternate to ensure a stereo quality sound. Also, depending on the logistics of the set up, you may want to consider installing a separate volume control for each speaker. for example, a speaker far away in the yard may need to be louder than a speaker right next to the deck, or something like that. If you’re thinking about mounting them, be sure that you have planned mount locations in advance, and that they can support the weight of the speaker. Basically don’t just blindly drill into drywall.

Fifth: You absolutely need the right type and length of speaker wire

This one is really important: Not all speaker wire is created equal, and it’s important that you have the right type (in addition to it being rated for outdoor use) – if you have a longer run, you’ll need a lower gauge wire to carry more power, or if you’re using an on ground or rock speaker, you’ll need wire rated for direct burial, and a conduit to run it through, etc. Further reading: See our full guide on selecting the right outdoor speaker wire.

Regarding the actual run of the wire: chances are you’ll be running from an amplifier/receiver indoors. You’ll want to be sure the wire is also graded for in-wall runs. It is really not a good idea to run wire out a door or window: you won’t be able to close the opening, it’s a tripping hazard, and a crimped wire can actually short and permanently damage a speaker.

Get some string and do a “practice” run of the wire to see how long it will actually need to be. Add 10-20% to the length you actually purchase as an insurance policy, or in case you subsequently decide to move the speakers around some.

Sixth: Do you need an outdoor receiver or amplifier too?

Probably not, and we haven’t seen any such product on the market anyway. There are innumerable ways to make it work – plenty of modern receivers can pair with a remote or a smartphone that you can use to operate it outdoors.

Conclusion – don’t neglect planning ahead!

A decent outdoor sound system can be a few hundred dollars or significantly more. If you plan ahead and set everything up correctly, this is an investment that can be well worth it, as a good system can last for many many years. Here’s a good video below which covers the actual specifics of common installation steps: